When I was very young, I didn’t see this. I didn’t see the heroism of color, or the way we make colors ourselves, in our eyes, in our mind’s eye, or the bravery of Nature’s way, or its tremendous courage in painting as it does.
Yes, Nature paints, and that’s not just a Romantic notion. It’s not some pseudo-poetic way of describing the ineffable. It just paints. Nothing comes close to the skill set of Nature in regard to — well, everything, really. Especially shadows, colors, light, polarities of darkness and light. And nothing can reach its sublime power in making opposites cohere, mesh, harmonize, complement. In a sense, wash away. In Nature, they become one with the All. But for humans, they mean war.
For us, they mean conflict, battles and war. For Spinoza’s god, they meant the universal orchestra, the mother of all choirs, the pallet of the cosmos. And we don’t even know how many senses might be involved with the orchestra, the choir, the infinite color range — six, thirty, one thousand and one? We don’t know, and likely never will, because we’re human, all too human. It escapes us and our instruments, even after centuries of advancements.
Goethe said, roughly translated, “Colors are the deeds of light.” Aside from being a great poet and novelist, he was a scientist who developed his own theories about color, the way we form and interpret them. Few men have tried so hard to merge the poetic with the rational, the rational with the poetic.
From his Theory of Color:
Let a small piece of bright-coloured paper or silk stuff be held before a moderately lighted white surface; let the observer look steadfastly on the small coloured object, and let it be taken away after a time while his eyes remain unmoved; the spectrum of another colour will then be visible on the white plane. The coloured paper may be also left in its place while the eye is directed to another part of the white plane; the same spectrum will be visible there too, for it arises from an image which now belongs to the-eye.
In order at once to see what colour will be evoked by this contrast, the chromatic circle may be referred to. The colours are here arranged in a general way according to the natural order, and the arrangement will be found to be directly applicable in the present case; for the colours diametrically opposed to each other in this diagram are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye. Thus, yellow demands purple; orange, blue; red, green; and vice versâ: thus again all intermediate gradations reciprocally evoke each other; the simpler colour demanding the compound, and vice versa.
We demand certain things: structure, a certain kind of logical connection between elements surrounding us. We form beauty this way, in our eyes, in our mind’s eye. And beauty, the courageous collection of disparate things in context — this may be the the highest height humans can reach. If something isn’t quite symmetrical, we strive to make it so, or, perhaps, get angry. And by pulling this and that out of context (sometimes violently) of what we may consider in that moment asymmetrical or not beautiful . . . we create turmoil, and that can be beautiful too. Or, it can destroy.
If that destruction is just on canvas, or in the dark room, or on a piano, or hammering rocks into certain shapes, if it is sectioned off and made functional for itself . . . But what happens when we take our projections of what should be just so about the world away from Art? What happens when we see our fellow human beings and our environment as definitely in need of sculpting and remaking?
There really is no universal answer. Taoism, thousands of years ago, had some answers that work and work still, but not in all cases, and not for all time. The realization that when we tear something out from its context, sever it from, separate it from, and say it’s “beautiful” — the revelation that this creates conflicts where none existed can take us a long way. Discrimination can be a hateful thing. But without it, we would be less than rocks, never noticing if the wind touching us were cold, warm, wet or dry. But desperately seeking this all the same.
Colors are heroic because they knew this before we knew them.